Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stunning California Pinot Noirs

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

We’re back with more California Pinot Noir! Since my last report, I’ve tasted through a range of Cali Pinots. This batch is stacked with goodies.

This report includes some stunners from three excellent Sonoma producers: Three Sticks, La Pitchoune, and Alma Fria. I find the latter to be a seriously impressive effort, and their Chardonnay is amazing, too.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. (The rosé was tasted sighted.)

2015 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $28
Pale salmon color. A lot of floral perfume pops on the nose, along with wild strawberries and cherries, topped off with white pepper, sea spray and chalk dust. Vibrant and tart on the palate but some rounded aspects to the mouthfeel as well. White cherries and strawberries are topped in white pepper, cucumber slices, sea salt and minerals. A lot going on here, this is a clean and vibrant rose., and the food pairing options are endless. (88 points)

SRP: $23
Deep ruby color. Nose of strawberry and raspberry jam, some rhubarb pie, cola, sweet oak and clove. A juicy and chewy approach with mild tannins, medium acidity and lots of fruit (black cherry, raspberry and strawberry jams). Flavors of mocha, vanilla, cedar and cola play nicely together. A simple, straightforward, candied wine with crowd-pleasing style and a good dose of delish. A blend of mostly Monterey County fruit with some from Sonoma County. (85 points)

2014 Cambria Pinot Noir Bench Break - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $25
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries, raspberry jam, roses, along with some cola and clove. Juicy texture on the palate with smooth tannins and a refreshing quality from the acid. The black cherry and raspberry fruit is jammy but bright, and accented by notes of floral potpourri, coffee and slight pepper. A bit generous with the toast, but it holds the oak rather well, and the wine stays vibrant and fresh. Drinking wonderfully now with some near-term cellaring potential. A total bargain at $25. This spends 8 months in French oak (27% new). (88 points)

2014 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Bien Nacido - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $60
Light ruby color. A really interesting herbal kick (pepper, tobacco, mint, basil) on top of sour cherries, wild strawberries, hints of cola, clove and cedar. Medium-bodied but bright, elegant even, with dusty tannins and bright acidity. Tart cherries and strawberries mix with crunchy blueberry, and the fruit is topped with lovely spice and herbs (eucalyptus, pepper, mint) – notes of earth and tar balance out the subtle wood and cola elements. Very long, lip-smackingly clean finish. Loving this bold but elegant style. What a beautiful Pinot. 13.9% alcohol, this is aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points)

2013 Gainey Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. A warm aromatic display of deep cherries, red berry compote, violets, clove and coffee - rich but lively. Tart, bright acid and dusty tannins provide a pure and electric feel on a medium-bodied frame. Juicy black cherries blend with fresh strawberries and McIntosh apple. I love the subtle complexities of roses, white pepper, earth and cola. Precise, lively and bouncy, this wine felt like the sleek skilled boxer of the bunch. Aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. Exceptional for this price point. (90 points)

2014 FEL Pinot Noir - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
Medium ruby color. Smells of cherry pie and red currants, deep concentration but the fruit opens up with air. Bold aromatics, a bit compact at first, but I get some hips and spiced coffee as well. Full-bodied and bold palate (14.4% alcohol), the tannins are velvety-smooth and the moderate acidity helps keep it relatively balanced. Black cherries and strawberry jam, a mix of dark, jammy fruit but the fruit maintains nuance. Secondary flavors of cola, dark chocolate and vanilla. It’s a delicious, forward style of Pinot, but it maintains mystique with earthy, minty, mushroomy elements. (88 points) 

2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir Jackson Estate - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $32
Medium ruby. Dark and bold aromatics, this is a big wine with black cherries, currants and strawberry jam mixed in with roasted coffee, roses and sweet pipe tobacco. The palate is full and chewy, with velvety tannins, medium-low acidity, and packed with fruit (black cherries, strawberry jam, some blueberry mixed in, too), woven together with coffee, cedar, sweet tobacco and vanilla. Bold but pretty. 14.5% alcohol, aged 11 months in 29% new French oak. (87 points)

2012 WindRacer Pinot Noir - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $50
Dull ruby color. Smells of chilled raspberries, wild strawberries and a mix of earth, spice and herbal complexities — a delightful wine to sniff. Full-bodied with structured tannins and medium acidity, there's a lovely feel of lushness to this wine. A nice blend of bright red and warmer black cherry fruit, accented with woodsy spice and sweet herbs. Wood and cedars highlight but don't lead. Very pretty now but structured well for near-term cellaring. Aged 15 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Outland Ridge - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $35
Vibrant ruby color. Such bright aromas of raspberry, red apple, deep plums, along with rich violets, cola, cinnamon and cedar. Good tannic bite with some balanced acidity. Full and plum with a generous texture and darker fruit flavors than the nose indicates: deep plums, black cherries, backed up by tobacco and roasted nuts. Vanilla and cedar are prominent but not overwhelming. A darker, saucier style but still put together nicely. Aged 11 months in mostly French oak (35% new). (87 points)

2013 Artesa Pinot Noir Estate Reserve - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. Smells of raspberry jam, strawberry rhubarb pie, bright red flowers and notes of cedar and clove. Full-bodied with medium-low acidity. Juicy black cherries, raspberry jam, fig paste, the fruit is laced with some serious rose petal and potting soil. A bit heavy on the mocha, cedar and clove flavors but still quite nice. Aged 10 months in 50% new French oak. (87 points)

2012 WindRacer Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley 
SRP: $50
Deep ruby color. Smells of cola and roses on top of a core of sweet cherries and strawberry jam, with savory/earthy aspects that need air to unravel. Full-bodied but showing solid tannic structure and vibrant acidity. Juicy black cherries, ripe cherries and raspberries, the fruit is full and juicy but cool and quite crunchy at the same time. I love the savory (mushroom, soy) elements and the earthy and spicy complexity that will evolve with another few years. Impressive stuff! (90 points)

2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Deep rose petal and ruby color. Juicy black and red cherries on the nose, along with sweet cola, vanilla, some clove and earth accents. Full-bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity, bold but quite balanced. Black cherry dominated, with raspberry jam and saucy plums, the fruit is velvety and ripe and backed up wet earth and rose petals. A bit heavy-handed with the cedar, mocha and vanilla but this is very tasty stuff. This spends nine months in 30% new French oak. (87 points)

2014 Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $40
Vibrant ruby color. On the nose, I get juicy black cherry ice cream and strawberry jam, along with notes of anise, root beer and black tea. Full-bodied (14.4% alcohol) with a chewy tannic structure and medium-low acidity. The fruit tends toward the black cherry and plum cake, but it’s still lively. Significant mocha and vanilla from the oak, but there’s still plenty of earth and fallen leaves for complexity. Perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but still very well done. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (87 points)

2013 Anaba Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $36
Light ruby color. Bursting aromatics of raspberry, strawberry, red plums, along with cola, roses and red licorice, juicy but complex. Medium-full-bodied but a juicy feel from the combination of moderate tannins and vibrant acidity. Chilled red berry fruit abounds, backed up by roses, cola, soy, fallen leaves, and notes of vanilla and pine. Forward and juicy but stays lively and has complexity and structure to unwind over the next few years. This spends 11 months in 35% new French oak. (89 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $48
Bright ruby color. On the nose, wow! I get: bing cherry, wild strawberries, spiced cranberry sauce, tons of floral complexity and subtle spice. An airy and beautiful aromatic display. Medium-full-bodied with structured tannins that have a fine, dusty feel, while bright acidity keeps it fresh. Tart red fruit (sour cherry, McIntosh apple, wild raspberry) mixes with an elegant floral presence. Complex spice and savory aspects come out with air. Complex but harmonious, elegant but delicious style. This spends 11 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points)

This is a Sonoma Pinot producer to watch. 
2013 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Plural - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. What awesome aromatics. Fruit-wise I get tart cranberry, bright red cherries and red apple peel, but a bunch of white pepper, sage, floral tea and earthy aromas come out with time - this is just amazing to sniff. Medium-bodied, dusty tannins, crunchy acidity - this has such an airy and elegant feel. But there's plenty of fruit (crisp red apple, wild cherries, juicy strawberries), which is accented by airy, floral and herbal qualities (white pepper, clove, potpourri, savory spices). This is so pretty but there is plenty to unpack over the next 2-4+ years. Aged 14 months in French oak (10% new). (92 points)

2013 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Holtermann Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $58
Light ruby color. Vibrant aromatics, this is a tart, spicy, exotic and floral wine with lots of bright red fruit, pepper, rhubarb and woodsy/earthy elements. Medium-bodied (12.9% alcohol), the wine is framed by tart acidity and fine but structured tannins. Gushing red fruit (cherry, strawberry, raspberry) but it’s so tart and vibrant. Backed up by roses, potting soil, black tea and rhubarb. A vibrant minerality pervades this wine. Fruity and delicious but a tart, tangy, lip-smacking and exciting Pinot. Gorgeous now but I’d love to see this develop over the next four years or so. Aged 14 months in 20% new oak. (93 points)

2013 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Doña Margarita Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $58
Light ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of tart strawberries, cranberry sauce, rose hops, white pepper, and notes of mushroom and clay underneath. Pure and silky on the palate (beautiful mouthfeel) as structured but fine tannins combine with bright, lip-smacking acidity. Flavors of red currant, sour cherry, McIntosh apple and pomegranate, the fruit is crunchy but plenty ripe. Complex non-fruit combo of sage, white pepper, clay, rose petals, and hints of clove and cedar add just a touch. Pervasive minerality. Such complexity to unpack in the cellar, as these subtle savory spice elements will surely do awesome things in three or five years. 13.2% alcohol, aged 14 months in 25% new French oak. (94 points) 

2014 Three Sticks Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Vibrant aromatics of black cherries, raspberry jam, sweet notes of clove and cola mix with lovely elements of eucalyptus and rose petals. Full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) with medium tannic structure and some vibrant acidity. Flavors of black cherry and dark plums, the fruit is dark but still tart. Elements of cocoa, anise, clove and vanilla are woven in well, but I also get some violets and rich earth. Smooth, velvety, a rounded style but lively acidity keeps it bright and there are a lot of complex flavors to coax out over time. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (90 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Van der Kamp - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $58
Deep ruby color. A rich, deep aromatic display, but the aromas show vibrancy as well – I get red and black cherries along with roses, black tea, paved road, sarsaparilla, and cola. A full-body (14.2%) but this wine shows structured yet fleshy tannins and moderate acidity, so it’s bold but balanced. The black cherry, pomegranate and raspberry fruit is warm but fresh – laced with coffee, scorched earth, cola, clove, apple cinnamon spice. Chewy and warm but pleasantly vibrant and airy– seems like it could unfold for quite a few years in the cellar. Aged 11 months in ¼ new French oak. (92 points)

2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir VDK Black Label - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $108
Medium ruby color. Smooth and silky on the nose but plenty to sniff: juicy raspberries and strawberry, hints of rhubarb, rose petals and pepper. Full-bodied, silky but structured tannic approach, lip-smacking acidity, it all combines for a bold but vibrant wine. Black cherries mix with pomegranate, strawberry and wild blueberry. Complex notes of clove, chewing tobacco and peat mix with richer elements of cedar, roasted chestnut and clove. Mouth-filling and strong but stays vibrant, even elegant, although this is a very young Pinot that needs time in the cellar to show its full gorgeousness. This wine comes from the best Van der Kamp juice and is aged 11 months in 50% new French oak. (93 points)

<85 points

2014 Wild Horse Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRPL $18
Light ruby color. Smells of candied cherries, strawberry jam, sweet roses and cola. Soft tannins, juicy acid. Tart but jammy strawberries, cherries and raspberries, with notes of cedar, milk chocolate, some light roast coffee. A juicy, candied style but tastes nice. Aged 9 months in French oak, 20% new.

SRP: $12
Light ruby color. Smells like sweet roses, raspberry jam and strawberry candies. Medium-bodied with very soft tannins and medium-low acidity. Flavors are fun and simple (candied cherries, strawberry jam), along with cola, sweet coffee and vanilla. Simple but pleasant. One of the better wines I’ve tasted from this label.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hourglass' New Releases are Unsurprisingly Awesome

Hourglass' 2014 Blueline Vineyard Malbec & Merlot are killing it.
Ive been raving about Hourglass wines for a few years now, and this Napa producers new releases have kept up with my high expectations.

Hourglass reds are sourced from two vineyards, the Hourglass Estate and Blueline Estate. Proprietor Jeff Smiths family brought him to St. Helena in the mid-60s, when he was a baby. In the mid-1970s, the family bought a piece of property north of town, and planted it to Zinfandel, which was sourced for Caymus. Phylloxera obliterated the vineyard in 1990. The Dean of Viticulture at UC Davis, Dr. Mark Kleiwer, told Jeff this site (which would come to be known as the Hourglass Estate) was prime for Cabernet Sauvignon. Hourglass pressed its first Cab in 1997.

Hourglass acquired the
Blueline Vineyard in 2006, and the vineyard team replanted many of the blocks in 2007. The 22-acre vineyard (south of the town of Calistoga) is planted to all five Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. 

Winemaker Tony Biagi has an impressive resume (Duckhorn, PlumpJack, Cade), and he and Jeff have hit a serious stride with three solid vintages in a row (2012, 2013, 2014).

“It really was a convergence of two people with two like minds,” Tony said of his partnership with Jeff during a recent online video discussion. “I wanted to work for a singular owner who had a vision. I wanted to work for someone who had their own vineyards, their own winery, and, you know, craft wines that we both wanted to drink every day.”

Jeff lauded the recent vintages of 2012-2014 as “three amazing vintages, back to back to back.” Having tasted the wines from all three vintages, I have to admit, he speaks truth.

Below are my notes on the four new Hourglass releases I tasted.

2015 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $40
Pale straw color. Generous aromatic display of tropical fruits (guava, mango) with brighter elements of lime and nectarine, and a heaping of flowers and minerals to boot. Creamy texture, this wine has a bold presence on the palate but the acidity keeps it so vibrant. I love the mix of richer fruits (orange marmalade, guava, pineapple) with these brisk elements of lime and orange zest, white flowers and clover. There’s also this interesting contrast between oyster shells and chalk with honey and raw almond. Exquisite Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Sourced from Larkmead Lane vineyard (close to Blueline) and Varozza in St. Helena. Fermented 50% in stainless steel, 25% in used oak and 25% in new French oak barrels. No maloactic fermentation. (92 points)

2014 Hourglass Merlot Blueline - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Gorgeous aromatics here: rich currant, plums, brighter elements of raspberry and blueberry, and a host of complex non-fruit elements (smoke, clay soil, tobacco, barbecue sauce, roses) this wine really pops and opens with air. Big and bold but wonderfully structured with grippy, dusty tannins. Moderate acidity keeps this wine vibrant. A mix of dark (blackberry, cassis) and red (raspberry jam, plums) fruit, which is rich, moderately extracted but still tastes bright. Sweet flavors of coffee, clove and vanilla mix with savory elements of scorched earth, soy and mushroom. So complex but so easy to sip. This has its best years ahead for sure. 81% Merlot, 9% Cab, 5% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot. 18 months in 66% new French oak. 15.2% alcohol. (94 points)

2014 Hourglass Malbec Blueline - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $75
Smoky and dark on the nose, dark plums, black currant and blueberry blend with loamy soil, charcoal and campfire, but there are some brighter floral elements that lift the wine up and keep it vibrant. Bold and chewy on the palate, the tannins are structured and quite grippy, but the medium acidity keeps the wine from being heavy. The black cherry, currant and blueberry fruit is tart and crunchy despite its fully ripe and juicy character. Notes of violets, scorched earth, cedar, vanilla. Rich and full but long and seamless. What I love about this wine (and all Blueline wines, for that matter) is the combination of density with freshness. This wine is never heavy, despite its massive concentration of flavors. Stays elegant (despite its youth), which is quite a thing. Includes 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine spends 18 months in 40% new French oak. 14.2% alcohol. (93 points)

2013 Hourglass HG III - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Deep violet color. It smells of rich black cherries, red and black currants, blueberries, the fruit is dark but bright at the same time, and I also get complex elements of dark chocolate, violets, loamy soil, cedar and ginger. This is full-bodied and rich but the acidity is superb and precise, holding this wine together against the firm tannins and bold texture. Flavors of black cherries, dark currants, plum skins, the fruit is fleshy but maintains a tart edge. A host of non-fruit flavors glide across the palate: loamy soil, charcoal, tobacco, cedar, vanilla, dark chocolate, roasted chestnut, vanilla – the flavors unwind with time in the glass (which this needs, or cellar time). For a “second” wine, are you kidding me? This is superb. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah 20 months in new and seasoned French oak. (92 points)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Metal Provocateur Nergal Opens Up in Conversational Biography

I took this photo of Nergal at a Behemoth show in 2015.

If you don’t know Behemoth, stop reading this and go listen to “The Satanist,” “Evangelion” and “And the Forests Dream Eternally.” If this music does not speak to you, move along to other, less fascinating things.

If you’re a Behemoth fan, or a fan of extreme metal in general, and know of Nergal’s work, this book is worth checking out. But outside of that context, I’m not sure the book has much cross-over appeal. It represents a niche within a niche, and those without much reference points will be confused by a lot of this.

This “memoir” is structured as a series of questions, posed by two of Nergal’s friends and colleagues. Nergal’s replies make up the meat of the book.

The introduction by D. Randall Blythe (Lamb of God) is perfect. He speaks of his respect for Nergal as a “survivor,” a term he admits is overused these days. “For survival to impress me these days, it has to be real, and it has to be done with panache. There are simply too many motherfuckers on this planet for me to be impressed by your mere continuing existence.” (Nergal survived a rare for of leukemia, which he discusses in the book.)

Like all interesting people, Nergal is a collection of diverse and seemingly contradictory elements.

“I actually live in two worlds,” he says. “One of them is mine. I was in it; everything there goes slowly, according to its own rhythm. That part is my actual life. In the second world, on the other hand, I always play some kind of a role. I don’t know who or why I was made to play it, and I end up in the tabloid newspapers as a consequence. It just happened. I don’t care about this. I don't belong there; I’m just a guest. I actually think a lot of people exist on the vague boundaries of these two worlds.”

The interviewers are friends and colleagues of Nergal, but their questions are anything but underhand pitches. The questions are posed in a seemingly random fashion, and many of them sound adversarial, even badgering, in their tone. After one strange question, Nergal simply responds, “What kind of question is that?”

Also, I wonder if the interviewers had even planned out their questions ahead of time, because the chapters are barely coherent, the inverse of a Behemoth song. Nergal mentions something about clothing and then the questions turn to whether Nergal does his own laundry and irons his socks. Seriously. 

Nergal’s responses are almost always great, but he can only do so much. I wish he was posed more substantive questions about Behemoth’s early days, how the band prospered, Nergal’s take on various iterations of Satanism, etc.

Instead, a lot of the book focuses on Nergal’s relationships with various Polish women or celebrities, but there is no background given. So if you don’t know these names (which is likely the case for everyone who isn’t Polish), you get quite lost.

The best parts of the book come where Nergal takes a mediocre to dumb question and riffs on them, producing some interesting quotes. There are a ton of good quotes in here on all sorts of topics. Here are a few of my favorites:

Yes, he's an atheistic Satanist, but Behemoth shows have a stirring and spiritual quality.
On the U.S. being a weird place: “It’s a strange country. You can go to jail for drinking beer on the street but yet everyone carries a weapon.”

“There’s an idiot and a wise man inside each of us.”

“Christian rock is pathology – a classic oxymoron... These are sounds of rebellion. The subjective nature of religion and rock's ethos are mutually exclusive.” 

On the word “disturbing” to describe Behemoth’s music: “When somebody says that about our music, I take it as a huge compliment. It’s the same with cinema. The best movies are disturbing.”

On the word “nice” to describe music: “If somebody said that our show was nice, I’d feel like I’d been slapped in the face. Cheap hookers can be nice, but not Behemoth's concerts.”

“Disdain for carnality is a result of 2,000 years of waiting for the kingdom that only comes when we die. I reject this fairy tale, and I reject the disdain for temporality.”

At this point, almost all metal music is a copy of a copy of a copy. And that is understandable. But, in our midst, we still have a revolutionary and inspiring metal frontman in Adam Nergal Darski. And even though this book misses many marks, Nergal's words have their own unique power. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Summer of Jura - These Whites & Reds Pair Perfectly with Summertime

Remember the Summer of Riesling promotional campaign? That was fun, if a bit gimmicky. Riesling in the summer is a no-brainer, and I'm always keeping my eye out for delicious and crisp rose wines to combat the insane heat and humidity here in the mid-Atlantic. 

But this year I've been approaching summer sipping a bit differently: with Jura wines. 

Whites from grapes like Chardonnay and Savagnin provide oodles of minerality, brisk acidity, and tart fruit flavors. And the reds from this fascinating region in Eastern France work well in the heat as well. These wines (made from grapes like Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard) are not dense, heavy, extracted reds. Many of them drink like pink wines, with refreshingly lip-smacking flavors, and they taste delicious when chilled.

I've recently tasted through some beautiful Jura wines from my personal collection during the heat of this summer, and both worked really well.

2010 Domaine de la Pinte Arbois - France, Jura, Arbois

Funky, medicinal and herbal liqueur aromas (I mean that in a good way), with tart red apple and white cherries. Light tannins at this point in its life, brisk acidity keeps this wine intensely bright and lip-smacking. Love the white and red cherry fruit, but at this point it's all about the earth, tobacco, herbal and spice components. Fun stuff, the Kevins and Ian dug this wine, too. We drank it chilled on a Saturday afternoon beach day in Atlantic City. This was a new, absurd, and awesome experience. Life is good. I'm not sure I'd age this much longer, though, but it's kicking. (90 points)

2012 Domaine de la Borde Arbois Pupillin Côte de Caillot - France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin

Medium gold color. The aromas are KILLING IT: Gorgeous mix of orange marmalade, lemon curd, shaved ginger, sea brine and crushed shells. On the palate, a waxy mouthfeel combines with brisk, bracing acidity, and the presentation is beautiful. Flavors of orange peel, lemon curd, salted lime and green apple glide across the palate with ease. Flavors of chalk, minerals, sea salt, brine, smoked herbs, honeyed tea, dried nuts, ginger - this is a complex ball of goodness that also seems effortless. Gorgeous stuff with a long finish. Must get more for the cellar. I drank this on a sweltering hot DC. (94 points)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Wine Myths Debunked

Credit: El Pantera - Wikimedia
The wine world is full of tired maxims, repeated with confidence by people who want to sound wine savvy.

You can't drink red with fish!

All bottles must be stored at a constant 55 degrees or else they will be ruined. 

Soave is crappy wine consumed by old winos. 

While there are some general rules about wine appreciation, rules are meant to be broken. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. Wine appreciation isn't a cut-and-paste kind of thing. It's about spreading joy and loving life. 

For this month's Wine Writer's Round-Up from Snooth, I join a bunch of talented writers in debunking some of the most common wine myths. 

Click here to read the whole piece. 


Monday, July 18, 2016

Arinzano: Stunning Wines from a Spanish "Grand Cru"

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Sancho Fortuñones de Arínzano first produced wine in this Navarra site in the 11th Century. So, yeah, there's some history behind this special spot.

Arinzano received a Vino de Pago classification in 2007, a heralded designation for certain estate-grown and produced Spanish wines. The vines are planted in loam, sand and limestone soils in a cooler area of the Pyrennes, and the vines climb to 1,600 feet.

In brief, these wines are exciting and delicious. Vibrant, bright, complex, full of earthy spice and complexity.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Arinzano Hacienda de Arinzano Blanco - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
Medium yellow color. Lively aromatic bursts of lemon curd, green apples and juicy pears. The oak shows through on the nose with vanilla and toasted almond but I also get some salty air and floral perfume. Creamy texture on the palate but zesty acidity keeps it fresh. Green apples, lemon curd and pear skin flavors blend with a pronounced sense of chalk, minerals and quinine. The oak is noticeable with vanilla and nut flavors, but they're mixed in very well. The wine is long and seamless, Burgundian, dare I say it. Aged 12 months ion French oak (30% new, 70% second year). (89 points)

2015 Arinzano Hacienda de Arinzano Rosado - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
Ripe watermelon color. Smells of juicy strawberries, white cherries, watermelon, along with some chalky and spicy notes. Very pretty in its creaminess but quite tart and bright in its approach, Notes of crushed chalk and minerals add complexity to the strawberry, red apple and quince fruit. A nice kick of spiced tea, pepper and nettle comes out as it warms up. Crisp and clean but this packs quite a lot of flavor and depth. 100% Tempranillo from a vineyard that is designated particularly for making this rosé. (88 points)

2011 Arinzano Hacienda de Arinzano Tinto - Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
Gorgeous light purple color. Deep aromas of black cherries, red and black currants, violets, cedar, tobacco, roasted coffee, but the wine needs time to open up to show its full aromatic capacity. Full but fleshy with wonderfully vibrant acidity and structured, dry, dusty tannins. Gorgeous tart fruit (black currant, plum skins) mix with a note of roasted fig, all of it backed by pipe tobacco, forest floor, sage, tobacco. A savory, earthy finish, this wine is great for the lover of brightness and freshness in a bold wine. Impressive but accessible now. Tempranillo with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, aged 14 months in 40% new French oak. (90 points)

2008 Arinzano La Casona ­- Spain, Navarra, Arinzano
Vibrant dark ruby color. Loamy, cigar shop and herbal notes roll over red currant and dark cherry aromas. The wine really opens up a lot with air to show spicy and earthy complexity. Pure silky on the palate, sure the tannins are structured but they're fined down around the edges and bright acidity pulls it all together. Full of black cherry and dark plum fruit, some lively red berry fruit tossed into the mix as well. I get a host of cedar, cigar box, dried leaves, charcoal and tobacco flavors. So much going on here, but this is also an elegant and pure expression. I'd love to revisit this in three years. A blend of 75% Tempranillo and 25% Merlot aged 14 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Energetic & Elegant Champagnes of Bruno Paillard

Bruno Paillard and his daughter Alice. Credit: Champagne Bruno Paillard
Bruno was only 27 years young when he founded his eponymous Champagne house. In 1981, he was a man on a mission: to make precise, zesty, mineral-driven Champagnes.

Thirty-five years later, he has overachieved. These are vibrant, complex, intriguing Champagnes that are prepped for years of cellar aging. 

The Paillards were not new to the Champagne scene — Bruno’s ancestors had been vinegrowers in Champagne since the early 1700s. In 2007, Bruno’s daughter, Alice Paillard, joined the company and became co-director two years later. Champagne Bruno Paillard now releases about 450,000 bottles per year, making it something like a larger small producer or a smaller large producer.

I recently dined with Alice and tasted through her family’s wines. The lineup was seriously impressive, and Alice's knowledge of Champagne production and export markets was incredible.

These wines share a brisk and dry appeal due to their racy acidity, minerality and lower dosage. Although labeled Brut, technically all of the Champagnes would qualify for the Extra Brut label (since they contain a lower dosage of 6 g/l or less). The house only uses a small portion of the first press for its wines. Also, Bruno Paillard ages their wines on the lees for much longer than legally required (36 months for the non-vintage blends, 48 months for the Blanc de Blancs, at least eight years for the vintage-dated wines and about 10-15 years for the cream of the crop, the N.P.U). The house also claims to be the first one to place disgorgement dates on each bottle, which Bruno began doing in 1983.

For the first 15 years or so of the house’s existence, Bruno sourced grapes from a variety of trusted growers. But he wanted his own vineyards. It wasn’t easy to buy the plots, Alice explained, because they rarely come on the market and are in high demand. But her father's work as a vineyard broker gave him an inside track, and he managed to purchase his first plot in 1994. Today, the house holds more than 60 acres of estate vineyards, about half of which are in Grand Cru villages. These estate vines (which are divvied into a 80 different parcels), provide the house with more than half the grapes they need for their champagne.

Below are my notes on the wines I tasted with Alice Paillard.

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Réserve Privée - France, Champagne
SRP: $70
Such a fresh and vibrant nose with lemons, lilies and honeysuckle. Crisp and lively on the palate with lively acidity but an impressive depth and weight to the mouthfeel. Clementines and lemons mix with some rounder, juicy fruit, and it’s all topped with generous amounts of sea salt, crushed shells and that signature element of chalky minerality. Very impressive stuff that unfolds and evolves. This spends four years on the lees and is dosed at 5 g/l, Extra Brut. It comes from several sites in Grand Cru vineyards of the Cote des Blancs. A 2009 base, this was disgorged in December 2014. (92 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Richer yellow color. Some marzipan and peanut on the nose, along with lemon curd and nectarine. Rich body but lovely acidity combine for a great texture, the rounder feel is contrasted with a crisp and mineral-driven aesthetic. Orange pith, white cherry, lemon, touched with toasted bread and honeybutter. This blend comes from 32 different villages, vinified separately, it’s a blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier with at least 25% reserve wine. This spends three years on the lees and sees a 6 g/l dosage. Disgorged May 2015. (90 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Rosé Brut Première Cuvée - France, Champagne
SRP: $70
Gorgeous nose of white and yellow flowers, almond, toasted bread and bruised apples. Crisp and delicate on the palate despite some pleasantly rich texture. Oranges, apples, white cherries, add some chalk and toasted baguette. Bright, mineral-driven finish. Mostly Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay from the northern part of the Cote des Blancs. 5 g/l dosage, disgorged May 2015. (90 points)

2004 Bruno Paillard Champagne Assemblage Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $90
So perfumed on the nose with flowers, sea spray, pastry crust, nuts and all sorts of apples and pears. Tart but so elegant on the palate, brisk, bold, very young. A good amount of citrus (oranges, limes, lemons) along with almond, pie crust, also I get some chalk and minerals. Long, lovely, complex, a beautiful wine that will age nicely for a while. Spends 8 years on the lees. (91 points)

2008 Bruno Paillard Champagne Assemblage Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $85
The aromas are direct, bold and intense, with apples, pears, lemons and floral extract. Bold texture on the palate, this is a young and punchy wine but the acidity is wonderfully intense. The wine maintains a pure and structured aesthetic, a dense boldness but also laced with chalky, salty, mineral-laden goodness. A very intense Champagne, but it has this underlying emotiveness that is so intriguing and exciting. All of this nonsense language to say: this is an exceptionally pleasant experience. 42% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 16% Meunier. 5/gl dosage. Aged seven years on the lees, disgorged in 2015. (92 points)

2003 Bruno Paillard Champagne Nec Plus Ultra - France, Champagne
SRP: $200
Deeply floral nose with blood orange, apricots, honey, chalk, toasted bread – the aromas are intense but so elegant. Rich but bright, full but tart. Yellow apple, apricot, quince paste, the fruit is bold and backed up by honey, almond, candle wax and white tea. A gorgeous wine with tons of texture and richness, but lots of vivacity. The nuanced flavors take time to come out and will improve with a long time in the cellar. Dis 2003 if you’d like, but this wine slays. A 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend, sourced from Grand Crus Oger, Chouilly, Verzenay and Mailly. This wine is fermented in old oak barriques and aged 10 years on the lees and two more after disgorgement. Dosage 3 g/l. Alice Paillard said, “This is only starting to talk.” I agree – long life ahead. (94 points)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wine Reviews: Italian Grab Bag

This post first appeared in the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Recently, I've received a handful of wines from all over Italy, hence this catch-all report. This batch included some solid and relatively inexpensive whites and a kicking Brunello from Gaja. 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

N.V. Carpenè Malvolti Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 1868 - Italy, Veneto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
SRP: $19
Pale gold color. Really precise and bright on the nose with lime, green melon and green apples mixed with flower stems, honeysuckle and sea breeze. Crisp acidity keeps this wine crunchy and bright, while the rich flavors of white peach and melon blend with tart lime and apple notes. A sea breeze and salt element contrast the honeycomb and yellow floral notes. A zestier approach with lingering minerality. (87 points) 

N.V. Cantine Torresella Prosecco - Italy, Veneto, Veneto IGT
SRP: $16
Light gold color. Smells like lemons, limes, apricots with a bit of bread dough and sugar cane. Bright acidity on the palate, medium-bodied, this is a fresh and stylish Prosecco with simple, straightforward flavors of limes, apricot, sugar cane and sweet honeysuckle. Vibrant, tasty, good for the price. (86 points)

2015 Kettmeir Alto Adige - Südtirol - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige - Südtirol
SRP: $22
Pale straw color. Light but vibrant aromatics of honeysuckle, dandelion and lemon grass on top of fresh lemon and lime slices. Steely and tart on the palate with brisk acid and a medium body. A sharp sense of lemongrass and dandelion, and a steely mineral kick, all on top of green apples and limes. Interesting flavors — this begs for oysters. (86 points) 

2015 Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige - Südtirol
SRP: $17
Pale lemon color. Bright and floral on the nose with generous honeysuckle and dandelion to top the tropical fruit salad. Crisp acidity frames the palate precisely but the rounded creamy feel adds to the appeal. Guava and pineapple mix with lime, and the fruit is topped in chalk, white pepper and flower stems. A lingering sense of minerality. Quite delicious but stays crisp and bright throughout. Really solid stuff for the price. (87 points)  

2012 Monte Tondo Soave Classico Casette Foscarin - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
Pretty golden color. Smells of lime, quince and honeydew, and I get some white flowers, crushed stone and minerals. Such precision on the palate, crisp acidity meets a slightly waxy mouthfeel. A racy mineral spine supports lime and green melon, but there’s an intriguing amount of crushed chalk and sea salt. Slight green herbal kick, a mineral-laden finish. Bring on the seafood tower. 90% Garganega, 10% Trebbiano. (89 points) 

2014 Le Battistelle Soave Classico Battistelle - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
Light gold color. Love the bright lime mixed with some apricots and green melon, along with some minerals and bright white floral element. Medium-light-bodied, a bright acidic profile but some interesting waxy elements — honeycomb, almond, white tea — a slight green herbal note along with some minerals. Fun stuff with a unique flavor profile. (87 points)

2015 Fattoria Sardi Giustiniani Rosato
- Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $20
Juicy peach and copper color. Aromas of white cherries, strawberries, some pepper and an herbal (arugula?) note. Bright and fresh on the palate, with white cherry and wild strawberry fruit, which is juicy but crunchy. Love the rose, hibiscus and honeysuckle notes. A fun and refreshing wine. A saignee method rose, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Ciliegiolo. (87 points) 

2011 Pieve Santa Restituta (Gaja) Brunello di Montalcino - Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino 
SRP: $78
Deep ruby color. Lovely nose but it takes a while to open up and show all of the rich currant and plum, along with a mix of herbs, earth and tobacco. Really structured tannins but the acidity is bright. Juicy but fresh red and black currant fruit, which rolls over the palate in waves. Lots of secondary flavors of loam, violets, chewing tobacco, cedar and spiced coffee. Long, luscious finish. Lots of complexity in here, but this needs some time in the cellar for sure, but a gorgeous wine. All Sangiovese aged 12 months in barrel and 12 months in bottle. (92 points)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Old Westminster Winery Puts New Life Into Maryland Wine

Credit: Old Westminster Winery
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Old Westminster Winery is the most exciting and dynamic wine producer in Maryland. This Old Line State winery is a family affair that dates back to 2008, when Jay and Virginia Baker (no relation) decided the rocky soils in their Carroll County farm would be a good spot for a vineyard.

Today, they produce a wide range of whites, reds and sparkling wines that will smash any negative stereotypes you may have about wine in Maryland.

The Baker children (all in their 20s) have accomplished an impressive amount in a relatively brief period of time. Lisa crafts the wines, Drew manages the vineyard and Ashli heads up the tasting room and event planning. Together, they're pushing the limits of Maryland wine's potential, and turning quite a few heads (including mine) in the process.

Their 2014 Malbec was recently
awarded Best in Show at the 2016 Maryland Comptroller's Cup, and several of their other wines took home awards in this state competition.

I recently tasted a few wines from Old Westminster. These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Old Westminster Winery Albariño Petillant Naturel Home Vineyard - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Light gold color with that pleasant light spritz. Smells of lemons, limes, pineapples and apricot with floral perfume, musk and a scent of raw almond. On the palate, this is so pleasantly vibrant with subtle bubbles, bright acidity and a light but somewhat waxy texture. I get flavors of green apple, apricot and melon, but there’s a deep floral presence in this wine, like perfume, cut flower stems and cucumber water. Hints of tea and almond. Wine nerd level 11! But the deliciousness factor is right there, too. This is Maryland’s first Pet-Nat from and it’s exciting stuff. (88 points)

N.V. Old Westminster Winery Greenstone Third Edition South Mountain - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Pale straw color. Needs to warm up show it’s full aromatic display, but the apricot, white peach and lime fruit starts to jump out — I get a moderate amount of richness (honey, sweet flowers) from the Viognier with a hint herbal spice from the Sauvignon Blanc, and the combination of these grapes is quite nice. A bouncy, plump texture on the palate, the mouthfeel is great in the way it balances out with crisp acidity. Apricots and melon mix with bright limes, the fruit is vibrant but juicy without ever being too heavy or honeyed, like some mid-Atlantic Viogniers. Some white tea and honeycomb combine with a sense of river rocks and smashed stones. Quite complex, definitely balanced, totally delicious. 67% Viognier and 43% Sauvignon Blanc fermented in stainless steel. (87 points)

2014 Old Westminster Winery Black - Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore
Dark, dark purple colored (hence the name?). Smells of saucy plums, black cherry cola, blackberries, there’s also this violet, sweet clove and potting soil element. Medium-plus-bodied, surprising tannic structure but it’s not too tight, pleasantly bright acidity – this wine is harmonious and balanced. The fruit is ripe but tart (plum, black cherry, wild blueberry), and I get notes of spiced coffee, clove and anise. Integrated elements of cherry wood and cedar. This really opens up and gets more and more exciting with air, and it’ll surely develop in the cellar. A blend of 38% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot and 12% Syrah, aged 18 months in French oak. 13.5% alcohol. (88 points)

The wines are available at a handful of retailers in Maryland and DC and through the producer's wine club.

Friday, July 1, 2016

#VAWineChat - Granite Heights Vineyard

Big name Virginia players (Barboursville, Linden, Horton, Jefferson Vineyards, Michael Shaps) have been producing reliably solid wines for a long time. But the overall quality of Virginia wine has increased so drastically over the past decade, that you can call up kick-ass wines from all over the state. 

Granite Heights is one such producer that is new to me and delivered the goods. Located in Fauquier County in Virginia’s Northern Region, it’s the project of owners and partners Luke and Toni Kilyk. Luke got his bachelor’s in chemistry and began winemaking as a hobbyist in 2001, and transitioned in commercial winemaking in 2008. 

The couple’s 12-acre farm (planted to a high-density 2,000 vines per acre) is home to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Chardonnay and Vermentino. The term “hand-crafted" is used thrown around way too much in the wine industry, but it sure seems to apply to Granite Heights. They pick, press and do most of the other work by themselves, and with the help of a few friends. “We do not want to watch someone else do the job, if we can do the job ourselves or with them,” the Kilyk’s say. 

In a recent iteration of Frank Morgan’s Virginia Wine Chat (#VAWineChat on Twitter), I tasted through four different offerings from Granite Heights, and found a lot to like.

2014 Granite Heights Vineyard Petit Manseng - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Fauquier County
Light gold color. A floral spray note kicks off the nose, but then I get these honeyed white tea and peanut aromas. A creamy, waxy texture but the acidity springs this wine to life and keeps it lasting and fresh on the finish. Peaches, pineapple, drizzled with lime A bright floral presence, but a richness with these candle wax, honey, hints of peanut shell and white tea. An underlying vibrancy (like chalk, minerals). I love the chewiness of this wine mixed with that ever-present signature of brisk acidity. Off-dry style, but the acidity makes it work. (86 points)

N.V. Granite Heights Vineyard Rosé - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Fauquier County
A very pale salmon color. Smells a bit like strawberry short cake topped with clover and cut grass – interesting. A sweet but fresh wine with flavors of white cherries, strawberry shortcake, pineapple juice.. some sweet herbs and white pepper notes. Slightly off-balanced with sweet but funky-spice elements. I really want to love this wine, but it's just a bit strange for my palate. An off-dry blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Dornfelder and Petit Manseng. A blend of 2013 and 2015 vintages. (79 points)

2012 Granite Heights Vineyard humility - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Fauquier County
Vibrant purple color . Dark, saucy fruit on the nose with plenty of clove, pepper and cedar. Vibrant acidity, moderately sturdy tannins, this medium-plus-bodied wine has a lovely and silky presence on the palate. Tart black/blue fruit, a dense but vibrant structure to the fruit. I get a lot of cedar, spiced coffee, anise and eucalyptus Bold but elegant - this really unwinds with air and has time to evolve in the cellar. They call it humility, but I would have a hard time being humble about this wine. A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. Aged 15 months in mostly American oak. (88 points)

2010 Granite Heights Vineyard Lomax Reserve - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Fauquier County
Medium ruby color. Smoky nose with dark berry compote, leather and musk. Quite nicely structured with bright acidity and dusty tannins, the concentration and youthfulness of this wine is surprising and impressive. Plummy, tart berries, crunchy red fruits and luscious black cherry, there are a lot of different fruit elements going on here. I get some tobacco, pepper, vanilla and earthy notes, too. A bit young and tight but stays vibrant, this has plenty of time in the cellar to go. 41% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot and 9% Barbera, aged 20 months in French and American oak. (87 points)